FONTANA — Despite some roadblocks, Valerie McCraney finally met the Arizona truck driver who has lived for eight months with her son's heart beating in his chest.
Minutes after Daniel McCraney's life-support systems were turned off at Kaiser Permanente Medical Center last March 22, the heart of the 22-year-old Norton Air Force Base airman was on a plane for Arizona.
Ever since the heart was transplanted into Bernie Oldham's chest at a Tucson hospital, McCraney has wanted to meet him. On Nov. 16, she flew to Tucson and embraced the 59-year-old trucker.
"It's impossible to describe how I felt," McCraney said. "It put something at ease inside me. It put something to rest that was bugging the hell out of me."
Oldham, who was not expected to live more than three days without a heart transplant, said their meeting was an emotional one.
"Dan is a part of me. He is inside me, keeping me alive," Oldham said. "It's something you have to experience, having someone else's heart inside you keeping you alive. I know it's there--it's constant."
Following the transplant at the University of Arizona Medical Center, McCraney and Oldham wrote to each other, but medical center officials blocked direct communication between the two.
"Most heart transplant patients don't want to follow up on the donor," Oldham explained. "(Hospital personnel) were the middlemen. They took the addresses off all the letters. We were on a first-name basis only."
But when Oldham learned that the Fontana woman was continuing to call the hospital to check on his condition, he suggested that they meet in person and the hospital consented.
McCraney and her husband, Larry, spent Nov. 16 with the Oldham family at their home in Tucson. The Fontana woman cannot explain exactly why she wanted so much to meet Oldham. But, she said, it had something to do with pride.
She wanted to see whether her son's heart was doing its job and discovered that it was.
Oldham said he feels better with his new heart than he did during the two years that he suffered repeated heart failure.
'Like Being Reborn'
"It's like night and day, believe me," he said. "It was like being reborn, basically."
Doctors at the medical center said they had been trying to find a donor without success when they learned that Daniel McCraney's heart was available.